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|John 8:32; Galatians 3:28
I love this service. I love playing with the Hogtown Strutters. I love the all church band. I love having the service in the evening. I love the way everyone hangs around and has ice cream. All I ask is that someone out there save me some ice cream and a little hot fudge sauce, because by the time I usually get there the ice cream has melted, and most of the hot fudge sauce is either gone or on the floor.
Im sorry that we arent doing this in partnership with Friendship Missionary Baptist Church again this year. We did send a letter to their membership inviting them to attend. Since their Pastor Rodney Brown left last November, our relationship has been on hold. Our moderator, David Hackett, is appointing a task force as to where we go next in a neighbor church relationship.
Im going to talk about the American Revolution tonight, made popular again by Mel Gibsons new movie, The Patriot, which I unfortunately have not yet seen. Theres a danger I face here when I venture out of my own field into the arena of American history like Im doing tonight. There are any number of you sitting here tonight who are more knowledgeable than I am in American history. But I have learned to accept mediocrity in my knowledge of a great number academic and professional arenas as a means of stress reduction.
Given this disclaimer, I move now into the realm of the American Revolution with a quote from either my seventh or tenth grade American history teacher. He said that one of the unique gifts of the American Revolution was that it was not followed by anarchy and or repression.
Political revolution is like tearing down your house before you have built another one to live in. Until the new house is built, fear and chaos often reign. We avoided that. We did not have the horror of Cambodias killing fields, the terror of the Soviet Unions Gulags, or the anarchy of post revolution France. Some of our success may be due to luck; some is probably due to the brilliant and dedicated statesmen of that time.
William Sloane Coffin, Jr., chaplain at Yale, loved to reel off the names of the giants of the revolutionary era - Jefferson, Washington, Adams, Madison, Paine, Franklin, Monroe. And Coffin would point out that at that time the entire population of the American colonies was less than that of Los Angeles County today. There was a value on political intellect back then. Could you name eight political leaders actually in power today with the wisdom of those statesmen? A nation gets what we value, Coffin would say, and today in America we have great football and basketball players. Those are the names we know. But thats another story altogether.
My point is that that one of the remarkable gifts of the American Revolution was its ability to sustain the ideals that triggered it. That is worth remembering and celebrating.
However, we tend to lose our high regard for the American Revolution when our eyes are opened to see how many peoples inalienable rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness our founders not only ignored but also were complicit in denying.
I couldnt help myself as I copied the beginning of the Declaration of Independence for reading number two in todays worship service. I wrote "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all (rather than all men) are created equal "
James Baldwin once said that one could not be conscious in America without being in a rage most of the time. All you have to do is to begin to be conscious of the complete lack of womens rights for most of our history to be in a rage. Women could not vote. Womens property belonged to their husbands, and they lost it all in the case of a divorce. Most professions were effectively closed to them.
All you have to do is study the history of African Americans in this country to be in a rage. Slavery, no vote, segregation, and terror are just the surface of the story.
All you have to do is study the history of Native Americans in this country to be in a rage. The betrayal of Chief Osceola in Florida, the Cherokees Trail of Tears, the Apaches long march of death, the slaughter at Wounded Knee are just a few of the well known tragedies. Sandy and I always stop in at the local museums when we travel in the West. In every one there is a story of U.S. government lies, treachery, and murder of Native Americans that fills us with shame and anger.
We are only beginning to see the depth of prejudice held against gay and lesbian people.
But this country also has a gift, for it is also true that when some miracle of healing opens our collective eyes to injustice, we work to right the wrongs of the past. The arc of our continuing revolutionary mentality does bend toward justice.
Jesus said, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."(John 8:32) When lies rule, none of us is truly free. We have to know truth to be free.
Someone once said that this phrase should read, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free, but first it will make you very uncomfortable." When we see new truth about the ways we have treated women, minorities, and native people in this country, first we are very uncomfortable. Then we are enraged. When we act to correct the wrongs of the past, we find a new level of freedom for the oppressed and for ourselves.
Recognizing new truth, acting upon it, and changing the way we live is the heritage of the American Revolution. Our celebration is at its best when we realize the call of revolution is unending.
Im glad that the Gainesville Fanfares and Fireworks committee will not let a certain local church sing their God bless America Christian songs at the community gathering again this year. I know I wind up picking on these same people a lot these days, but they make it so easy. They claim that the community is "free to hear from everyone but the church," so rather than sing with nine other choirs, theyre going to have their own concert at their own church. Thats fine with me.
Their songs celebrate an American Revolution that ended with the dominance of white Christian men. They sing of a God who tramples out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored. They liken the death of Jesus to men going to war to kill one another, the irony of which is just stunning, for their denomination was formed to defend the ownership of slaves as a biblical right.
I believe that the greatest gift of the American Revolution has been its ability to continue. We do not any longer believe in the right to eradicate, oppress, or enslave the minorities of this country. Once we did.
I believe that the first call of our faith and our American heritage is to continue to open our eyes where we have been blind in the past. The Apostle Paul gave us a model, that in Gods will there is no male, female, Jew or Gentile, slave or free. We are all one(Galatians 3:28), and that is an unending revolution of conscience for humankind.
So let us consider three things as we leave here. First let us commit ourselves to continue the revolution in behalf of all those whom the original revolution forgot, either by intention or ignorance. Weve got a lot to do to do to insure that all people of every race, gender, age, economic level, and sexual orientation are guaranteed their inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We are called to find those leaders who stand for minorities of every sort and support them.
Second, let us take political action in the arenas of life in which we are called. If we are called to run for political office, lets do it. I know Im not called to that. But I remind you, and I remind myself, how important it is to nevertheless stay involved in the political process. It is not right for us to claim there is no difference among candidates, from president to school board, and ignore the whole thing. When elitists of the left or right do this, we cause the death of our own ideals.
Its an old cliché, but freedom has its price. When I was reading the Declaration of Independence for the quote we read this morning, I looked once again at the ending in which the signers pledged to each other "our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor." Many did indeed lose homes, livelihoods, fortunes, and even their lives.
Third, remember that right now there is still hidden to our eyes an injustice, an institutional cruelty, an evil truly immense. When it is revealed we will be appalled that we let it go unchecked, and future generations will look back on us and say, "How could you?" Our job is to pray for vision, to open ourselves to truth we have not yet known, and be agents of an unending American Revolution when we see that truth. In this search we may celebrate the truth which makes us free.
Prayer Sandy Reimer
Creator God, we are here tonight with words of thanksgiving and with gratitude in our hearts as we celebrate both the dream and the reality of freedom in our lives. We pray to remember that freedom walks in step with living and acting concern. Save us from self-satisfaction that is blind to problems and issues; save us from self-absorption that cannot see beyond our own skin, or economic status, or gender, or border; save us from complacency that takes for granted our blessings.
We pray to hold sacred your creation, O God, to become patriots for our planet Earth and patriots for humanity. Give us strength to defend our air, our open lands, our clear waters, and all the varieties of creatures. Give us strength to defend the rights of all people: to life, to homes, to food, to choices, to a future.
As the light of day slips away, and the night comes, our prayers turn to those who are dear to us. We send love, and strength, and blessing, to those we name silently to you.
Grant each of us, as we leave this service, the chance to reach out to another: with a hello, a smile, a story, a hand, a dish of ice cream, a hug. Grant us the grace of a good nights sleep, a rest that restores and freshens our souls. And may we wake tomorrow, wrapped in gratitude and compassion. Amen